DW: Ms. Slawik, together with your colleague Tessa Ganserer, you made history: you are the first openly trans women in the German Bundestag. Does that make you proud?
Nyke Slawik: I’m happy for all queer people in Germany, especially for all trans people, because this kind of representation has never existed before. When I was young, I had no role models in the media or in politics. That was something that I really needed at the time, to feel like we’re a normal part of society and that we’re everywhere. We can also become actors in this society, actively change something and not just remain trapped in this victim role. This is an important step for us and our rights.
Trans identity is just a part of you that you’re often asked about. You also went to the Bundestag with other topics: transport policy, modern social policy, climate protection. Is trans identity a blessing or a curse for you?
It has always been important to me to be open about my own history and identity because I know that people feel empowered by it, that it gives them strength and that they feel seen.
You and Tessa Ganserer also experience verbal attacks in the Bundestag, mostly from the AfD. You must have thick skin…
As a politician, you always have to have a thick skin, because we also have to take criticism, and part of that is good and right in a democracy. But there are many attacks that cross the line and are anti-trans. I’m very often attacked on the internet and of course it kind of sticks, but I don’t want to give these people the satisfaction of being intimidated and I continue to work for a society where you don’t have to hide.
They came out when they were 17. When did you know that you don’t identify with the male gender?
That was always clear to me. I felt that very strongly as a child. There was a strong desire from those around me that I should fulfill the male role. I remember very well how I was dragged into football and all the hobbies one would expect from a supposed boy as a child. All of that didn’t work for me. And when I hit puberty, it also became very physical for me that my body developed in a direction that I can’t identify with at all.
Now that you knew that to yourself, who did you tell next? The parents, the circle of friends?
At that time I initiated a good friend who unfortunately did not support me. She said I would never be a woman. The contact is broken. My parents had a hard time in the first few weeks and months, but then they supported me, my family and the school too.
Her father comes from Poland, from a conservative Catholic family. How did he react?
When I told him about it, he responded with the question: “Should I hit you now, or what?”. He wasn’t serious. At first he was overwhelmed, but then very quickly started to deal with the situation of trans people and also supported me, which surprised me. I was very scared at the time.
Polish politician and leader of the Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s eminence grise, often pokes fun at trans people or claims that being trans is a western fashion. What would you say to him?
Whether we are male or female, whether gay, lesbian, transgender – we are all part of this society. Trans people carry their identity with them from birth or from early childhood. And the West didn’t invent being trans either. Lesbian, gay, bi or trans exist all over the world and always have.
Would you also tell him that transgender people often go through an agonizing process that no one would do voluntarily?
Every day, trans people receive insults online or on the street, including threatening letters. It has been proven that trans people are at a much higher risk of losing their jobs, doing poorly in their careers or even becoming homeless. Being trans does not come with advantages, but quite the opposite – it is associated with great challenges. Even those who go into transition in order to be able to get medical treatment, access to hormones, possible surgeries, all of this is still not easy.
The traffic light coalition wants to abolish the transsexual law of 1980 and replace it with a self-determination law. When is the law coming?
The German transsexual law is unconstitutional in many respects. Until a few years ago, it stipulated that people who wanted to change their name and marital status had to get a divorce. There was also compulsory sterilization. This has been classified as unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court.
Although the World Health Organization says that trans identity is not a mental disorder, the German state still forces trans people to go into longer therapies and to have their trans identity certified twice independently by different psychologists. We want to revise this so that those affected can submit an application themselves. The law is expected to go through the Bundestag later this year.
The Self-Determination Act initially affects the change of name and marital status, but is also intended to facilitate medical transition. In what way?
We want to enshrine a legal entitlement to payment of service costs for gender reassignment surgeries. Trans people suffer psychologically if they have no access to medical services, have to write to their health insurance company again and again, or wait months or years for the services.
For the seventh year after the transition, you wrote: “In the past, I often blamed myself for not fitting into this world and did everything I could to attract as little attention as possible. It’s different today. I’m proud to be , who I am and I will continue to do everything to ensure that this is no longer a social struggle, but the most natural thing in the world.” A touching statement…
I want to be a door opener. We are over 700 members of the German Bundestag, including two trans women. There is much more to the world of gender diversity. There are intersex people whose physicality does not fit into a world that only thinks of male and female. There are trans men and a lot of people who don’t identify with the male/female categories.
What can be done to make society more open to minorities?
Representation is very important. There may be many who have no contact with trans people who have prejudices or fears. And I think when they see us and also see that we are normal people, then these fears can be taken away.
Even if we are only a small part of society, we deserve to be recognized and respected. This also applies to other minorities, whether it is in the area of religion or whether it is about people with a history of immigration: we all have the right not to be attacked and to live our lives as freely and independently as possible.
The interview was conducted by Katarzyna Domagala-Pereira